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Quintessence Design Diary: Skills and Attainments

In working on Quintessence of Dust, I decided that I liked some parts of D&D Next's skill list, and didn't like others. Of course, I've talked about D&D Next's skill model extensively. I particularly liked the skill-die model of earlier playtest packets, with skills rated +0 to +1d12, and with each skill carrying a preferential but non-binding attachment to a particular ability score bonus. On the other hand, there's a lot I don't like, especially when it comes to skills designed to manage character knowledge.

So I composed my own skill list, and introduced Attainments to cover the things that I want to track, and even use to modify skill checks, but that I wouldn't classify as skills. I've talked about the resolution mechanic of Quintessence before; Attainments are scaled like task bonuses and are often appropriate to use as such. (I'm not 100% satisfied with this, and it may need some alteration - but this is a design blog, y'all, I don't claim to get it right the first time.)

Each skill is made up of three or more Tasks - specific applications of the skill, allowing characters to further specialize. The Tasks also say a variety of things about what I expect a Dust to Dust tabletop game might involve; many of these would be unusual choices for other settings. The actual text includes more discussion of each Task's coverage, but I don't want this post to become unbelievably long, so I've cut that text for now. (Also, some Task names are ambiguous or misleading without that text; filing "Plot a Route" under Acrobatics seems weird until you get that I'm talking about studying an area for acrobatic passage, more or less like studying an area in one of the Assassin's Creed games.) There are plenty of valid arguments to be made that some two tasks should be collapsed together, also. Tasks include recommended ability score modifiers; the ability scores of QoD are Strength, Agility, Vitality, Intellect, Wisdom, and Spirit.

Easy checks use Action Difficulty 5.
Normal checks use AD 9.
Hard checks use AD 13.
Very Hard checks use AD 17.
Legendary checks use AD 21.

Skill List

Animal Handling
Note: At one point it bothered me that Athletics was the only Strength-based skill in D&D Next. Then I realized that it meant characters didn't have to spend a large number of skill selections to express "physical prowess." In QoD, Strength shows up in the tasks of other skills, but Athletics again covers most kinds of physical prowess that rely on brawn.
Note: Craft is particularly egregious for having a large number of individual Tasks. Most of these will never matter in a game; I just wanted to make the point that the system has handling for most potential requests, and I don't think it's a big deal if some tasks are only important in campaigns based on them.
Disable Security
Healing Ways
Note: Just like the Combat skill, Magic shouldn't see a lot of use for things other than casting spells of the appropriate type. Magic is one of the few skills where you can't attempt a roll without a task bonus of at least +1, though a number of specific tasks in other skills share that trait (not yet marked as such).
Note: QoD's social interaction rules treat deception as another application of an existing task, with a higher Action Difficulty. As I've said before, I think that being a great liar who can't persuade with the truth to save his life is a funny one-off character bit, but it's nonsensical as a common case.


The three Attainments are Contacts, Fame, and Lore. Players can purchase Attainments as part of advancement, but the general expectation is that players earn them in play without expending the game's advancement resources. The player can declare that she is interested in adding or improving an Attainment, and the GM should either agree that she has done enough already, or consider how the player might earn it.

Contacts represent individuals or groups; the numerical rating is a measure of its overall usefulness, where 1 is sometimes useful and 3 is quite extraordinary - an emperor or other very influential person considering you a personal friend or owing you a favor. The Contacts attainment stands in for a numerical tracking of faction values. Players use Contacts to grease the wheels of society, to be a social climber, or to drop some names in an Intimidate check to Threaten a target. (In that case, add the Contacts rating directly to the check result; some Contacts don’t appreciate this behavior.) GMs use Contacts to drag the players into trouble, and then to reward them afterward. Contact ratings can go down as characters lose credibility with their allies.

Fame represents deeds of note. The numerical rating is a relative aggregate of the character's significance and the event's overall fame or historical notability. Most adventures that become public knowledge - and some old-fashioned boasting helps with this - carry at least one point of Fame. Characters can certainly behave in such a way that no fame attaches itself to them – concealing their identities and denying involvement when asked. This has its uses, especially if players are doing something socially unacceptable, but GMs are advised to make Fame more of a benefit than a hindrance, opening more doors than it closes. If the PCs develop unsavory reputations, let unsavory factions take an interest in them. Anyone who might dislike a character still has enemies of their own, who might find common cause with the PCs. Fame ratings can go down over time if a deed that was widely talked about falls out of the general memory.

Lore represents a character's base of knowledge on a topic. Here again, the rating represents usefulness: some areas of knowledge can't be increased above 1 or 2, because their applicability just doesn't support it. (The text includes default rating caps for the "standard" campaign.) Players use Lore ratings when their knowledge of a topic helps them complete another task, but nowhere so much as in the Research skill, where Lore ratings are also its primary tasks. Add the Lore rating directly to the check result, when the GM and player agree that the Lore applies.

Even the highest possible rating in a Lore does not reveal all secrets. Lore only covers things that can be learned from books or other scholars; there are secrets that none have ever known or passed on. Further, the things a character with Lore 3 knows off the top of his head is substantially less than what he can learn with a few weeks or months of research.

Anyway, that's a summary of what I'm planning for skills in Quintessence. With modest adaptation for the different resolution mechanic, I'd suggest that the Skills and Attainments system could comfortably replace the skill system of D&D Next - and while we're on the topic I think it could be wedged into the new World of Darkness system

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